Advice for When You Apply These Ideas

Remember this advice when you are providing feedback to your team: it is a conversation and not a monologue.

At one company I worked at, we routinely used the phrase “Feedback is a gift” as a reminder that giving people feedback about their work was to be seen as a positive thing, and not a criticism. Keep in mind that feedback should be considered as such—don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that it gives you carte blanche to say whatever hurtful comments you feel like making. Even when delivering corrective feedback, you need to do so in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

In general, feedback is going to fall into one of three basic categories, regardless of when and how it is delivered:

  • Repeat (“Keep doing this”). You’re pointing out where the individual is doing acceptable work, and encouraging them to continue doing it.
  • Reward (“This was above and beyond”). You’re pointing out where they amazed and delighted you. Often this is the kind of feedback that is deserving of an award of some kind (which we discuss in the chapter “Rewards”), but keep in mind that often employees are rewarded as much or more by the fact that they have deepened their competence or gained additional autonomy (as discussed in the “Motivation” chapter).
  • Refactor (“This is not acceptable and must be corrected”). You’re pointing out where the individual has done something that is entirely unacceptable. This can range from simple office etiquette (“We expect emails to have a response within 24 hours”), to adherence to process (“No hand-editing of files on production servers”), to inter-employee communication (“When criticizing another team’s actions or performance, you do so quietly and/or to me, not directly to their manager”). Remember that these need to be concrete and backed by solid examples; simply saying, “Stop writing bad code” is not helpful or actionable feedback.

When providing feedback, remember that this isn’t a monologue, it’s a conversation. Monologuing is usually a sign that you are falling into the trap of the Theory of Learning: that you know what they are missing (because you are smarter than they are), and you know how to provide it to them (through your feedback). That thrusts your employee into a passive role.

Don’t relegate them to observer status; it’s far better to engage them in conversation, give them a voice (and ownership) into the feedback, and build something together that they can ingest and reflect upon. In most scenarios, this will also help ensure the conversation remains concrete and actionable—but always ensure that your direct understands what is being said/suggested by either asking them for their suggestions on how to improve, or echoing back (in their own words) what’s being discussed. This will also help you confirm the nuance they’re taking away from the conversation, and ensure that it’s what you’re hoping they get.

One last note on corrective feedback: Few managers actually enjoy giving corrective feedback. It feels terrible, particularly when your employee thinks they’re doing well, and for that reason we often procrastinate and put it off. Keep in mind, though, that the corrective feedback is not only necessary (in most organizations, you need to go through this before any other actions can be taken), but an opportunity for both you, them, and the rest of the team. Giving feedback is still the most effective and efficient tool for improving employee performance, but not giving feedback to poor performers is a quick way to demoralize the team and ruin any chance at a high-performing environment. Most employees want to be better at their job, and most want to know when they’re not measuring up, so they can get better at it. (Those that don’t, or can’t, fall under the chapter “Corrections”.)

When your team can count on you to give them constant, consistent, concrete feedback, their trust in you will grow, and so will their willingness to feel simultaneously safe and challenged.

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